Varicose veins are known for their swollen, bulging appearance, and they affect 1 in 3 Australians. Even though they are extremely common it is not always clear how, or why, they develop. And while there are some health and lifestyle factors which can be directly linked to varicose veins, there are also some myths. Does crossing your legs cause varicose veins? Or could they develop if you wear high heels everyday? Let’s debunk some common misunderstandings about what causes varicose veins.
First, what are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are the result of a medical condition called Chronic Venous Insufficiency, or CVI. The impacted veins are swollen, enlarged and twisted with a blue or purple appearance. Varicose veins develop when vein valves, which are responsible for forcing blood back up towards the heart, become damaged. When blood is not able to flow back up to the heart, it begins to reflux or pool, forming the enlarged vessels you know as varicose veins.
Any vein could become varicose, but the veins which are most commonly impacted are those in your legs. This is believed to be due to inflammation in the vein wall which is caused by additional pressure that is put on your veins when walking or standing for long periods of time.
1. Does exercise make varicose veins worse?
Exercise is one of the most effective measures of preventing vein disease. Most types of aerobic exercise – particularly walking and running – are great for your veins because they work the calf and leg muscles, improving blood flow back up to the heart.
Read more: Can extreme exercise cause varicose veins?
2. Does wearing high heels cause varicose veins?
Wearing high heels minimises the full range of motion of your foot and ankle when you are walking. Normally when you walk in flat shoes or trainers, you have a full range of motion. This activates your calf muscle and shoots the blood up through your veins towards the heart and lungs.
However, when you wear high heels, this movement is restricted as you are standing on your toes which keep the calf muscle contracted. As a result, your calf muscle does not pump the blood back through your veins as it should. This lost efficiency can cause the blood in the leg veins to pool.
If you already have visible signs of varicose veins, or you are already at risk, flat shoes which support the foot are recommended.
3. Massage can cure varicose veins
Massage may help treat the symptoms of varicose veins; such as reducing swelling or discomfort. However, unfortunately massage will not make varicose veins go away. Other ways you can reduce the symptoms are by staying healthy and increasing your intake of Flavonoids and Vitamin C. Using Arnica to ease the discomfort. And wearing medical-grade compression garments.
4. Pregnancy causes varicose veins
Unfortunately varicose veins during pregnancy are extremely common. 30 to 40 percent of women develop varicose veins during their first pregnancy. And 55 percent will get them during successive pregnancies.
The reason varicose veins often occur during pregnancy is due to three physiological changes. An increase in blood volume to help your baby grow. Your uterus causing pressure on the inferior vena cava. And a surge of pregnancy hormones that make vein walls less rigid and capable of functioning properly. These factors combined can cause the blood in your veins to pool, leading to the formation of varicose veins.
5. Crossing your legs causes varicose veins
This myth simply is not true. While increased pressure, like standing, sitting or crossing your legs for prolonged periods of time, can contribute to varicose veins. It is not external pressure that does it. It’s more likely due to defective valves in your veins or weakened vein walls. If you are at risk of developing varicose veins it is advised that you keep moving and encourage the blood flow in your legs, but crossing your legs alone will not cause varicose veins to develop.
6. Spider veins and varicose veins are the same
Spider veins and varicose veins are very different vein conditions. The dilated veins on the surface of the skin are spider veins, and they are usually cosmetic. Varicose veins occur in the fat between muscles and skin. Varicose veins may cause spider veins to appear, and sometimes varicose veins can be hiding deep behind a spider vein.
If you are unsure if have spider veins or varicose veins, you can try our vein self-assessment tool.
7. Varicose veins are harmless
Apart from the physical symptoms, which can impede on daily life, some varicose veins could lead to other health issues. Advanced or severe varicose veins can lead to blood leaking into the tissue and skin. This can cause painful swelling, inflammation and discolouration.
Another complication that can occur is hardening of the leg tissue, a condition known as Lipodermosclerosis. In extremely rare cases, untreated varicose veins can lead to the formation of potentially dangerous deep vein thrombosis or blood clots.
8. Varicose veins come back after treatment
The chances of your varicose veins coming back after treatment depends on the type of treatment you had. For example, endovenous ablation is proven to be excellent at treating varicose veins, with very successful long term results. The likelihood of veins coming back from the vein that has been treated is very low, between 2 – 5 per cent.
However, unfortunately there is no guarantee that you won’t develop a varicose vein from another source, or other vein, in your leg.
What are the known causes of varicose veins?
- Genetics. This is most important factor in determining if you may develop varicose veins. If your father has varicose veins the risk of inheritance is 30%, while if your mother has varicose veins the risk goes up to 40%.
- Standing or sitting for long periods of time. There are some studies suggesting that professions involving prolonged standing increase your risk of developing varicose veins.
- Gender. Statistically women are at a greater risk of developing varicose veins than men due to a number of physiological and hormonal influences.
- Trauma to the leg area
- Oral contraceptive pill use
Seek expert advice
The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive treatment program to treat varicose veins, with non-surgical laser treatment techniques. The benefits of laser treatment to patients are;
- Walk-in walk-out treatment
- 98% success rate
- Extremely effective
- Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
- No general anaesthetic
- Medicare rebates apply
- No downtime or time away from work
To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call 1300 535 017. Or, complete the form below to receive a call back from one of The Vein Institute team.